Business & Finance

Fiat SpA, the troubled automaking, aviation, insurance, and publishing giant, reported a net loss for 2002 of $4.3 billion, about twice what analysts had expected. But a substantial portion of the red ink was due to write-downs in the value of the Italian conglomerate's assets and to covering the cost of thousands of layoffs announced in October.

State Farm, the US's largest insurance company, posted a $2.8 billion loss in 2002. Still, a spokesman termed the results "encouraging" in light of the previous year's record $5 billion loss.

Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, withdrew a $579 bid for Burlington Industries Friday, a day after a bankruptcy court rejected a proposed $14 million breakup fee for the former textile giant. The move could clear the way for acceptance of a rival offer by financier Wilbur Ross.

An $800 million offer to buy the juice business of cranberry industry leader Ocean Spray was rejected by its executive board. But the offer by Northland Cranberries Inc., the No. 2 company in the market, could come up again when Ocean Spray holds its annual meeting Saturday. Ocean Spray, based in Lakeville, Mass., is a grower-owned cooperative, and some of its members are considering leaving the business due to steadily falling prices. Northland is based in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

In layoff news:

• IBM cut about 1,000 jobs in its US global services and software units, adding to the more than 15,000 workers laid off last year. Meanwhile, the computer giant said it won a six-year, $1 billion outsourcing contract from AXA, the world's second-largest insurance company.

• Palm Inc., the maker of hand-held computers, announced an immediate 19 percent reduction in its 1,170 member workforce Friday, as its fiscal third quarter ended. Palm is based in Santa Clara, Calif.

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